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Behind the Scenes at POTC2/3: Costume Fittings for Extras in Los Angeles, February 17, 2005
By Diane B. Rooney

Tuesday, February 8 started out as an ordinary day. I work at home, and since I was in the middle of a project, I decided to ignore the phone and cell phone until a suitable break.

I'd forgotten the first law for would-be background artists (extras). Opportunity doesn't knock, it calls. When I checked a few hours later, there were two messages from Sande Alessi Casting, saying I should call right away about an upcoming costume fitting, and two frantic messages from my friend in Sherman Oaks.

When I called Sande Alessi Casting, I got bad news first. Because I hadn't called back right away, they'd had to go on to the next person. I apologized and asked if there was any way I could have a back-up appointment for the costume fitting, covering for no-shows. They called back within fifteen minutes, with approval for the back-up appointment.

I was to go to the location of the fitting, and plan to be there for several hours until there was a break in the schedule when I could be seen. I explained that would not be a problem, that as a writer it would be interesting to talk to other extras about their work and their interest in Pirates of the Caribbean, and that I could get material to work into a behind-the-scenes article about the film.

There's a lot I won't be able to tell you about my experience. Like where it was and especially about the incredible costume photos and drawings for the sequels lining the corridors and walls of the dressing rooms. The journalist in me was dying to whip out my camera and photograph everything in sight, but the aspiring background artist knew how quickly that would lead to a hasty and permanent exit.

But there are some things I can tell you, like what actually happens at the costume fitting. For those of you who've never done this before, it will give you an idea of what to expect if you ever work as a background artist. Interesting information in the hotline messages from Sande Alessi Casting: Absolutely no acrylic fingernails, highlights in hair, or breast implants. (Apparently breast implants do not look good in the 18th century period corsets.

Maybe the acrylic nails could damage the costume fabric and people with highlights would not photograph properly in period costume?) Also, we were told to wear underwear and take a shower. Have people from the open call been living in character too long or what? And to be on time, or lose our spot. I guess I can also tell you that the fitting was for townspeople on Tortuga and that the filming will take place in Los Angeles in March over two, possibly three, days.

Since I was told to be at the fitting location by 9AM Wednesday, I arrived around 8:30 to find parking and get situated. A few folding chairs had been placed outside the entrance. This proved to be a good vantage point, as one of the first people to come out for a break was costume designer extraordinaire herself, Ms. Penny Rose, who was nominated for BAFTA, Costumers Guild, and Golden Satellite awards and won the Best Costume award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films for her costume design for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Fortunately I recognized her from the behind-the-scenes documentary on the Pirates DVD. She is even more impressive in real life. Ms. Rose gave me a once-over and said, "Were you in the first film? No, you weren't, were you? Well, you are going to have such fun!" My reaction was, "My God, she remembers everybody, since she approved the costumes for all of them."

When I went inside to check in, my name was on the list to be fitted, but not until 5:30PM. I figured it was going to be a long day, but then they gave me my welcome letter, sessions payroll form, and the set of tags with my ID number that would be used to keep track of all the items associated with my character, and told to take a seat. Looks like I ended up being the first female extra to be seen and fitted. Each ID tag said TCW and the number. TCW? The Costume Warehouse? Tortuga Cantina Wardrobe? Hmmm.

I was led into the costume area, where several dressing rooms had been curtained off. The open area was completely filled with costume pieces, organized by size and type on racks that seemed endless. It looked like containerloads of stuff had been assembled.

I asked one of the assistants if the costumes were new or being reused from the first film. She said they were new. One item that was tried on me had a " London" tag on the inside – perhaps they were made in the UK? You need to be comfortable undressing in front of people of the same sex and having them put clothes on you. The costume assistants and fitters were just wonderful. It was the first day of fittings for these scenes, and early in the day, so everyone was in a good mood. They study your build and coloring, then bring in various items to create a look. At this point the background artist is pretty much walking furniture – you just stand there while stuff is draped on you and scrutinized, and notes made of any alterations that need to be done. There are no mirrors in the dressing rooms or corridors, so you can't see what you look like.

I can't describe the costume but I will tell you the pieces that were selected: chemise, underskirt, overskirt, bum rolls on the hips to make the skirt stand out, stockings, shoes, jewelry, hat, and corset. And they are not kidding about the corset, which is the last item put on, except for the hat. In my case, I was told to bend forward while one fitter held my shoulders from the front and another tightened the laces in the back. Then I leaned backwards, and the corset was pulled down toward my waist. The curtains opened, and I was presented to Ms. Rose for approval. She seemed to like the costume that had been put together (heck, I WAS the first person), trying a few small changes like the way the sleeves draped but rejecting them, and deciding not to have my skirt lengthened, so I could walk without tripping.

Ms. Rose reviewed every background artist - the actor in the dressing room next to mine, for example, was told he needed more color in his costume, so the assistants quickly went to get some alternate pieces for him. From the costume area, I took myself and my tags to Hair and Makeup. These people were wonderful too. The stylists tried three different wigs before deciding on one they liked. I received just a touch of eyebrow makeup, to lighten the color.

I was told not to worry about the height of the wig, since it would be restyled before being used in the Tortuga scenes. Something said about being used first in The Wedding (now, I am not revealing anything here, as the wedding of Elizabeth Swann and Will Turner was mentioned in the Disney 2005 Investor Conference at the beginning of February: "Captain Jack's problems throw a huge wrench into the wedding plans of the blissful Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann. ") Just imagine, my wig on the same set as Orlando Bloom. The stylist took two Polaroid photos of my look, holding my ID tag. Next, I checked in at Props, but was told I might receive a prop on the day of the shooting.

Back to Ms. Rose for a final inspection with hair and makeup, then to the reception area for another photo with my name and number written on a whiteboard behind me. The wig returned to Hair and Makeup and I returned to the dressing room to get out of costume, with help. All my items were placed in a large striped plastic bag tagged with my ID number, hopefully awaiting my return. I nodded goodbye to Ms. Rose who said cheerily, "See you on the day!" (One can only hope.) At the reception desk I completed my payroll form and my license and Social Security numbers were recorded. I thought I saw Director Gore Verbinski but from an angle, so I couldn't be sure. And then those famous last words, "We'll call you…." I was out the door before 10:30. Never got to talk to any other extras about their interest in the film.

With the exception of its stars Pirates is largely a character film. The crew members, soldiers, wenches, and townspeople are not all young and beautiful. They will be a range of ages and some will be fairly ordinary looking. I'm sure that's why I was called. And since then, I'm paying more attention to the phone, hoping to be called for filming in March.